Neurodiversity: The New Frontier in Protecting Life

| June 11, 2018

The concept of neurodiversity promises a fresh perspective that may illuminate truth for those who pit quality of life against sanctity of life.

“A civilized society can only be based on respect for diversity… it is from this diversity that the richness of humanity springs,” said Dr. Fabiola Gianotti, Director-General of the European Organization for Nuclear Research.1

Achieving diversity has risen to the top of priority lists in the professional and academic worlds, and for good reason. Yet in a world where “celebrating the richness of humanity” means celebrating the diversity of virtually any and all characteristics, it is a travesty to see those with disabilities targeted as victims of abortion.

Abortion rates in the case of Down syndrome, for example, are astounding. Close to 100% of women in Iceland who chose to take a prenatal screening test have chosen to abort their child with Down syndrome (since the early 2000s).2

How can individuals fight so dearly to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities in today’s world, and yet simultaneously support their extermination through prenatal genetic testing and targeted abortion?

Thankfully, the concept of neurodiversity promises a fresh perspective that may illuminate truth for those who pit quality of life against sanctity of life.

The term neurodiversity means that “the range of differences in individual brain function and behavioural traits” are “regarded as part of normal variation in the human population”3 and appreciated as any other type of diversity.

The neurodiversity paradigm views autism and Down syndrome, for example, not as disorders (which would require a cure or treatment), but as disabilities (which merely require support, acceptance, and perhaps adjustment), according to Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen.4 Baron-Cohen, clinical psychologist and professor of developmental psychopathology at the University of Cambridge, also points out that individuals may actually function more highly than neurotypical individuals in environments that enhance their strengths and minimize challenges.

He even goes so far as to say that these variations are intrinsic to that person’s identity and deserve equal respect.

Katherine Wolf is a mother with physical disabilities as a result of a brain stem stroke. In a speech to students at Liberty University on January 31, 2018, Wolf discussed the idea that all individuals possess their own “wheelchair” – some struggle or impairment to overcome, whether that be seen or unseen.5 What a beautiful perspective!

Some would dare say that her quality of life was compromised in the accident, yet in one speech alone she encouraged over 8,000 students through her story of hope, healing, and the mighty work of God.

Is Wolf disabled…or is she enabled? I would argue she has been given a unique ability – the ability to impact millions with her platform as a result of her situation.

Neurodivergent individuals carry the same potential for making such an impact.

Bitty & Beau’s Coffee in Wilmington, N.C., employs forty individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities.6 Amy Wright, founder, won CNN Hero of the Year for her work. Bitty & Beau’s is so popular that it is spreading its joy all the way to a second location in Charleston, S.C.!

Who would dare walk up to a smiling Bitty & Beau’s employee and tell him or her that their life is not worth living?

We must defend the God-given truth of sanctity of life over the relativistic concept of quality of life. We must treat neurodiversity with as much respect as any other type of diversity.

Even from a biological perspective, are we truly willing to sacrifice the wide range of human traits and personalities by exterminating the richness of neurodiversity?

Dr. Nobuo Masataka, Professor of Primate Research Institute of Kyoto University in Japan, suggests that just as the term biodiversity has led to conservation of the environment, so the term neurodiversity may have the same effect as it relates to neurodivergent individuals.7

What if this term is one tool in the quest to protect neurodivergent life in the womb? If calling a baby a fetus can lead a woman to convince herself an abortion is okay, but showing an ultrasound and calling him or her a baby can dissuade the mother from this drastic and life-altering decision, perhaps referring to children with disabilities as neurodivergent is a modern step in protecting precious life before birth.

Perhaps we can encourage women to choose life for their children, no matter the neurological challenges or gifts they possess.

The ideas of neurodiversity provide yet another reason to treasure and defend the sanctity of all life, with no exceptions. Whether or not the term itself lights a new fire in the protection of prenatal lives, it certainly offers a fresh perspective that may illuminate a path towards celebrating the full “richness of humanity.”1

All individuals should have the opportunity to offer their unique richness to the world.

 

  1. O’Luanaigh, C. (2014, Mar. 26). Fabiola Gianotti to speak at UN on violence against women. European Organization for Nuclear Research. Retrieved from https://home.cern/about/updates/2014/03/fabiola-gianotti-speak-un-violence-against-women
  2. Quinones, J., & Lajka, A. (2017, Aug. 14). “What kind of society do you want to live in?”: Inside the country where Down syndrome is disappearing”. CBS News: On Assignment. Retrieved from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/down-syndrome-iceland/
  3. Neurodiversity (n.d.). In Oxford Dictionary online. Retrieved from https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/neurodiversity
  4. Baron‐Cohen, S. (2017). Editorial Perspective: Neurodiversity – a revolutionary concept for autism and psychiatry. The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 58, 744-747. doi:10.1111/jcpp.12703
  5. Wolf, Katherine. (2018, Jan. 31). God’s Mighty Plan [Video file]. Retrieved from http://media2.liberty.edu/mediaplayer/1080/message?_ga=2.105802635.928674301.1528386085-755634654.1526431769
  6. Molina, C. (2017, Dec. 18). Founder of Bitty & Beau’s Coffee in NC is named CNN Hero of the Year. The News & Observer online. Retrieved from http://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/article190304994.html
  7. Masataka, N. (2017). Implications of the idea of neurodiversity for understanding the origins of developmental disorders. Physics of Life Reviews, 20, 85-108. doi: 10.1016/j.plrev.2016.11.002
    Photo courtesy of Pixabay under the Creative Commons license
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